: Social commentary

Lunar New Year: More than the Dancing Dragon

Lunar New Year: Much more than a Dancing Dragon!

When we think of the Chinese New Year (CNY) images like the famous dancing dragon and night markets with delicious dumplings come to mind. It is a vibrant and noisy event for most of us celebrating in our own way alongside the Chinese community. Behind the trademark dancing dragon and food abundance is one of the most successful East meets West initiatives in the Southern hemisphere and outside China. Emerging from humble beginnings in Sydney in 1996 as a local community event, sponsored by the City of Sydney. The cultural and economic gains of the festival are huge bringing many delegates to participate in the festival. Mixing tradition with food and dance to celebrate has helped entrench the festival into our national culture and psyche.

Once regarded as ‘celestials’, the Chinese community have successfully bridged the cultural divide from once selling produce door to door and enabling them to come face to face with a ‘white public’ paved the way for their community to be seen as less alien. According to Dr Nicola Teffer Museum of Sydney’s curator of Celestial City: Sydney’s Chinese Story

Australia’s first Chinese ancestors became trusted ‘market gardeners, store keepers, cabinet makers, bankers or traders’ With 6.5% of Sydneysiders having Chinese heritage they are not just our merchants anymore but fellow colleagues, neighbours and friends (http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/celestial-city-sydney%E2%80%99s-chinese-story).

Lunar Parade Photo: Courtesy City of Sydney

Lunar Parade Photo: Courtesy City of Sydney

CNY is by no doubt rich in tradition and families look forward to it with eagerness not dissimilar to our dominant cultures Christmas. It is a time of renewal for the Chinese community as they seek to gain deeper insights into themselves while joining together with family to celebrate. A midnight mass is common for most families to ask for good fortune, safety for family, continued or gained prosperity and the blessing to receive a long and happy life. Like Christmas, old and young look forward to coming together and red packets are passed to children with money or hidden under the pillow by parents. Special dishes are prepared such as yuanbao, (simply ‘dumplings for those outside the community’)these pay homage to the ancient, ingot-shaped Chinese currency and are believed to increase prosperity (source– 10 Good luck foods for Chinese New Year). Traditional sweets such as oranges, mandarins, lychees and sticky plums are also favoured.

The Demystification of Symbols

What can be hurtful to the Asian community is when these valued traditions are made a mockery of for example when those outside the community ridicule the symbolism. For instance, it may seem ridiculous to some watching a cloth dragon eat lettuce from the red-posted doors. But the lettuce is meant to appease the angry dragon. The firecrackers & extra noise is to scare away the monster ‘Nian’ who runs terror over the Lunar Year. To this day the colour red is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity – it is also the colour of currency in China and parents continue to place red packets until their child’s pillow to protect them. This year Art Gallery New Sales Wales is helping demystify the symbols used throughout the festival by hosting an ‘Auspicious Symbol Tour’ in English http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/calendar/auspicious-symbols-tour-2015-english/ This year is the wooden sheep – a colleague of Cantonese descent informs me it is a great year for pending nuptials.

Schisms in the Wider Asian Community

In Sydney CNY is not only celebrated by those of Chinese descent and westerners but many other cultures. The festival holds great importance to many in the wider Asian community. So much so that a petition has been drafted in support of an official name change of the event to “Lunar New Year’, citing the disrespectful nature of using the Chinese New Year name while also celebrating the cultures of Thailand, Korea and Vietnam. Anthony Ngo, a Vietnamese man who started the petition, (told SBS)

“If I greet some Chinese man with ‘Hey happy Vietnamese New Year – it’s not right. It’s just like greeting a Vietnamese man with Happy Chinese New Year,”

(source- http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/sydneys-chinese-new-year-festival-celebrates-the-year-of-the-sheep-20150210-138uws.html Sydney’s Chinese New Year Festival celebrates the Year of the Sheep Feb10, 2015), Matt Burgess

The festival continues to attract guests in considerable numbers sometimes reaching tens of thousands. The dragon boat races are becoming an iconic part of the festival, as is the twilight parade and lunar markets; this ‘Year of The Sheep’ giant terracotta warriors lanterns illuminate our skies against the iconic Sydney harbour. Just as meeting for Yum-Cha is a weekend outing for many or popping out for a ‘Thai’ dinner. We are Australasia after all and Asian culture is a big part of us. So, let’s celebrate it.

Future Projections

Charles Price, one of Australia’s most respected demographic experts has already published his projections: “the year 2020 would see some 2.7 million persons of unmixed Asian origin and about 3.9 million persons of part Asian ancestry; a Total Descent figure of 6.6 million persons of whole or part Asian origin; that is, 26.7% of the total Australian population”. In twenty years, a quarter of Australia’s population will be Asian (source-The Future Asian Population in Australia-Ironbarkresources.com). We can estimate that close to 1,749,374 Aussies of Asian descent will reside in Sydney in coming years – the festival can only become bigger and better for us all.

The debate will no doubt continue regarding an official name change. It is apparent some community members do not feel the same sense of social inclusion that those involved in the festival hoped to create. As some of us continue to try to foster a sense of ‘home’ away from home, we can continue to share culture and learn from each other. It seems to me, at least, that Chinese New Year is on its way to becoming a quintessential Australian tradition with a Lunar New year in the making.

What do you think of a name change for the festival?

Would it make a significant difference to you or your family?

Do you have any ideas for better social cohesion for Asians and those outside the culture in Australia? Or do you think we manage cultural assimilation quite well?

Racism in Australia in 2014

All Together Now has created an infographic with the key findings from the 2014 Mapping Social Cohesion report.

scanlon social cohesion

Each year the Scanlon Foundation commissions research to measure Australian attitudes on social cohesion, immigration and population issues.

The research shows the levels of racism in Australia compared to previous years. During the past year, 18% of people experienced discrimination based on skin colour, ethnic origin or religion. This is a small decrease from 19% last year, but a huge increase from 9% in 2007.

Alarmingly, 5% of people living in Australia – over 1.1 million people – experience racism at least once a month. People are most likely to experience racism in their neighbourhood, at the shopping centre, or at work.

The research also found that around 25-30% of Australians are intolerant of cultural diversity. All Together Now optimistically believes that people in this group won’t necessarily hold these intolerant beliefs for life. They tend to make racist comments because they over-estimate the number of people around them who agree with their point of view. When bystanders speak up  during a racist incident, the perpetrator learns that their view is not shared by others and is less likely to say something racist in the future.

Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world. More than 1 in 4 Australians were born overseas. Let’s increase social cohesion in our country by making all Australians feel welcome. You can start improving social cohesion by speaking up when you witness racism.

Halal or No Halal? That is the question.

Over the past week, two Australian companies, The Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company and Byron Cookie Company, have been bullied into withdrawing their Halal certification on dairy products and biscuits respectively.

It is a minority of people who have been complaining about these companies’ products being halal certified. If we look at their arguments they boil down to the following:

1)      It takes away my right to eat normal food.

2)      They are in Australia after all, Halal is not part of our culture.

Curious people may be wondering what all the fuss is about. We’re here to demystify what halal is and why Australian companies produce halal-certified food.

What is halal?

Halal is the Arabic word for ‘permissible’. Anything considered halal by Muslims is an action, item or saying they are permitted to take part in.

In terms of food, everything is halal/permissible unless there is evidence from Islamic religious texts to say otherwise. Vegetables are permissible (halal) to eat and any product found in the sea, fish or mammal or muscle, are permissible to consume also. The grey area for permissible food is applied to animals on land and alcohol based products. Simply, the halal stamp gives consumers peace of mind when shopping.

To find out more, you can watch this video to see the humane and ethical treatment that is part of the halal meat process.


Why would companies certify products halal?

The world is filled with a variety of people, with a variety of dietary requirements. And with Australia being a multicultural country based on values of equal rights and opportunity, and giving people a fair go, it is natural to then have many of those food variants available to the Australian consumer market.

Many products with the halal stamp are in fact products void of any animal products or by-products. This is the case for yoghurt, milk, vegemite or biscuits products. Previously consumers would have seen them as vegetarian products. This is part of a trend to replace animal rennet or gelatin with vegetable by-products due to health concerns around the fat and sugar content levels in too many products in the market.

The products which have found their companies under attack by a minority of Australian consumers are in fact targeting products void of animal products. Keith Bryne, Chief Operating Officer for Byron Cookies Company clearly states:

“The Halal company that certifies us is based in Sydney, they come and they audit us and then they go away again, they don’t ‘bless’ our foods, they don’t ‘bless’ our site, there’s no religious context to it, they check our hygiene and they check that there’s no alcohol there.”

Here Keith Bryne makes it clear that no animal by-products or meat are actually used in their biscuits. The halal certification they have is to extend to their customers a sense of trust, which every brand needs, by using a community trusted company to grant the certification.


So really, what’s all the fuss about?

Companies like Four’N Twenty, Mrs. Macs, Vegemite and Cadbury have halal certification for many of their products. It is a shame that bullies and boycotters with misinformation have caused Australian companies to take a step back from a successful, value inclusive and profiting business scheme of halal certification.

Companies like The Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company, Byron Cookie Company and others have had to cancel lucrative business deals due to removing their stamp of approval. In the case of The Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company, it was a requirement for their international supply deal to purchase the certification. This is the case for many other companies which export products overseas.

In the end the right to choice has been taken away from the companies and those Australian consumers who wish to follow the dietary rules of halal eating. The halal stamp is simply the same guarantee and peace of mind that labels like gluten free, vegan, egg free, nut free, wheat free, lactose free, kosher or suitable for vegetarians brings for those wishing to be conscious and aware of the food they consume in the busy and often time constricted shopping lifestyle that modern Australians live in. It is a positive outward trend of a conscious and productive multicultural Australia.

Inequality in Indigenous Education


Over 200 years have passed since European colonisation and still Australia’s Indigenous population remain unequal to that of the rest of the society in education. It is time for Australia to recognise this inequality and for society and its politicians to make proactive conscious efforts to rectify the problem. Statistics in 2007 showed that within the Northern Territory communities First People children from ages 5 to 17 years were failing numeracy and literacy tests. Results released in 2014 shows that not much progress has been made through government intervention with Indigenous children still 40-60% below the minimum reading standards. We must question why this is the case for the Indigenous population and how to solve this problem.



Institutionalised educational inequality:

Most of the problems, specifically relating to remote areas of education, are mostly due to poor teacher quality. Teachers often fresh out of university have been settled in remote communities on incentives and higher pay. Teachers would often not attend the schools in remote communities meaning that the days of school would be inconsistent and vary. It is important when receiving high quality education that students have quality teachers, quality resources and regular days of schooling. Naturally, the failure for the government to provide such quality in the past has led to a lot of doubt and mistrust from parents of students and community leaders. This then leads to students consistently not attending days when a teacher is provided. The community feels highly neglected and this is most likely due to institutionalised views towards Indigenous students.


A report produced in 2007 by Helen Hughes for the Centre of Independent Studies stated the important premise that Indigenous children were thought to be unable to meet standards for school because they come from a nomadic community lifestyle. However, educational success in some remote community schools belies this point and shows there is a clear institutionalised attitude that Indigenous children are not worth educating to the same standard as members of any other community which leaves us unable to build on existing success and best-practice examples. This inequality amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ standard in education will continue if the government and society do not change their attitudes towards the Indigenous population.


Combating educational inequality:

A positive way to move forward would be for the government to recognise Indigenous languages and for the Indigenous community to then formalise the teaching of their native languages alongside English. This would be a great step towards a true acknowledgement and recognition of the First People of Australia. Just as we teach languages such as Mandarin, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese or Arabic at schools across Australia in a formal manner the Australian education system must afford the same rights to Indigenous languages. Australia would be highly enriched by adopting a bilingual schooling approach as such places as French-Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, South Africa, and India.


Why acknowledgement is important:

Language is a key to the preservation of culture and the loss of a cultural identity amongst a community can cause adverse social effects. Depression in Indigenous populations is very high, and this has been a highlight amongst the Beyond Blue campaign against racism, launched earlier this year. Ridgeway, former Indigenous MP and Ghil’ad Zuckermann a historical linguist both make it clear that through the preservation, understanding and acknowledgement of indigenous languages it will increase cultural identity in the First people communities. This acknowledgement gives stability and reassurance of identity and existence which in turn leads to better mental health and social wellbeing.


For a better, stronger and culturally equal Australia it is imperative that as a society we move forward positively over the coming decade as we question what it means to be Australian. This begins with the right education for all.



The Real Beauty Race

Everywhere we look we are being told the grass is greener on the other side of beauty through media outlets, whether it be a bigger house, faster car, a certain school our classmates attend, a suburb others live in, or even the shape of our eyelids, the fairness or tanned nature of our skin—it is always greener on the other side. Or is it?


We know that advertisers use a range of tools to enhance and sell their products. They have no limit or mercy when it comes to hitting the nerve that will pull in the punters. Racial enhancement is a common tool that has been used for as long as there has been colonisation. It is commonly perceived that only the ‘colonised’ ‘non-white’ other is targeted in this case, with products such as ‘fair and lovely’ for women, and men, and other companies promoting whiter skin for people labelled ‘brown’ and ‘black’; there are many cosmetic treatments for those who wish to make more lasting changes, such as eyelid surgery common to people living in East and South-east Asia or rhinoplasty (nose surgery) for people living in the Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean regions. What is often lost is that there is also a movement amongst people perceived as Western and beautiful by the ethnic minority to want to tan themselves. This is the fascinating side to cross-cultural interaction. Perhaps we can understand through examining the advertising sector’s push to sell and that beauty is truly subjective.


The Fallacy of White is Beautiful:

For many years women and men of darker-complexion have been sold the idea that fairer skin is better because it is beautiful, positive and attractive. Recently, in India, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) put in place new guidelines that cannot “depict people with dark complexions as ‘unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned.’” However, this does not stop advertisers highlighting that a woman can be happier with fair skin.

It may seem to by negating the image of a man or woman looking sullen while in their darker-skin, but it simply would lead to that scene of an ad or print campaign being cut out and done away with, and only showing the woman smiling and happy with her or his whiter-self.

This white skin movement is also an epidemic among men in India now, with the advertisers making use of a previously neglected market. The bleaching creams, meanwhile, destroy pigmentation, have harmful chemicals, and for those that cannot afford these basic cosmetic treatments darker and harsher chemical means are sort out in back-streets and home-brews.

This crisis of race is not only found in India, or Asia, but stems across what could simply be seen as those countries which have been colonised by Europeans or have a heavy cultural influence coming to them from the West. Australia, being a multicultural country, is no less of a sufferer of this condition than its Asian continental neighbours.


Surgery is The Answer to Beauty:

Some seek to alter their physical traits permanently with cosmetic surgery options. In the statistics presented from the ISAPS 2014 Global Statistics, world-wide eye lid surgery (blepharoplasty) and facial implants are amongst the top elective procedures women choose, just under breast related surgeries. Rhinoplasty, remains 13th on the scale of most common procedures globally. However, within certain communities in Australia it is dominant. These statistics are solely based on the cosmetic and aesthetic elective surgery procedures performed.

The recent Insight episode, ‘Beauty Race,’ looked in to the cosmetic industry and racial boundaries being redefined in this field. Two cosmetic surgeons, Dr. Andrew Kim and Dr. Angelo Tsirbas, both confirmed the surgeries dominant in certain communities could be identified as perceiving beauty that is the Western or European look. And those most common? Blepharoplasty for Asian clients and rhinoplasty for Mediterranean and Middle-eastern clients.


Brown is also Beautiful?

While this may be a well-known identity condition of the African and Asian immigrant community, we often pass by the seemingly obvious opposing syndrome—those with fair skin tanning themselves on beaches and salons to appear browner. Tanned skin is beautiful in the eyes of those with fair skin. Some may interject and not see this as a problematic condition as compared with the other. However, skin cancer (Melanoma) is the 4th major cancer prevalent in Australia. It equally affects men and women, as well as the young and old, with more than 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year.


The death of Clare Oliver caused by tanning in solariums, highlights that the so-called safer option to brown skin is not, in fact, safe. There has also been no study, as yet, in to the effects of tanning lotions and creams on skin. There is no study to state what harmful effects the chemicals used to produce the tan would have in the long term on those who use it frequently.


Something that is clear, the cross-cultural interactions means that the beauty race for the perfect look runs both ways. It is definitely not a one-sided exchange where those not of European decent crave to look European. Ms. Oliver’s case also highlights an often neglected perception, which is that the cross-cultural interaction is not just on the level of coloniser and colonised, but that it occurs from all cultures due to the multicultural and diverse nature of Australian society.


It is a human condition to want to enquire, experiment, and seek out something new. But, when it turns in to craving to change how you look due to negative perceptions of a persons’ racial features, this crosses the line. While people feel compelled to change their physical features due to racism, this indicates Australia still has a lot of work to end racial discrimination.


Media and Advertising Responsibilities in the Beauty Race:

The media has a lot to atone for in regards to racial negative and positive perceptions. We only have to look at journalistic reporting, ad campaigns and marketing of products recognise that the Australian condition is to ignore the ever diversifying multicultural population. Looking to prime the presenters on mainstream media outlets we only see what can be described as European faces. The audiences of these television shows and ads are not from a mono-culture. This factor will only perpetuate the idea and concept that the ‘white look’ is the ‘right look’. When media diversifies, so shall the concepts of beauty diversify.


Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and truly that beauty cannot be defined by a colour, eye fold, contoured body, bridged nose or a larger ‘booty’. Because

we do not know what lies behind those beholder’s eyes. One thing is for certain, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, and it is better to water and maintain the field we already have. Surely a healthy body, which is worshipped so by its owner is the best form of beautification?

In Australia we have the ability to be able to live and work in a society that is multicultural, and is built from migration. This is only experienced in a few other countries around the world. Perceptions won’t change amongst the consciousness of the people until the marketing and advertising industry also changes how they push products on to their submissive consumers. Until every face is used as a tool for advertisement, not every face will be thought of as beautiful.


A huge win for racial justice!

All Together Now is very pleased that the government has reversed its decision to water down the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). This is a huge win for racial justice in Australia.

Thousands of organisations and individuals wrote submissions in favour of keeping the RDA in its current form, including All Together Now. We are very pleased that the government listened to community concerns.

Again, it is important to recall Australia’s international obligations, and the commitment we have made to the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Australia is first and foremost a multicultural society, and hence protections against racial discrimination should be at the forefront of our legal and policy initiatives, as mandated by our international obligations.